Couples with children often try everything to avoid divorcing. Yet, when the decision finally comes, it also often brings relief. The finality opens opportunity to work toward something better. Then, the next hurdle hits.
How do we tell the children?
Statistics clearly demonstrate that divorce can deeply harm children. The old narrative that children simply bounce back has been destroyed by real stories of broken lives.
But, the harm can be limited. And divorce can even bring opportunity for better lives for children.
Children’s security and ability to thrive depends on their parents’ working together to care for them. When divorcing parents treat their children as people (with feelings, rights, and desires of their own) rather than as property to claim—children thrive. Despite the trauma.
Parents set the stage for this healthy adjustment beginning with how they tell children they are divorcing.
Children need to hear:
- We love you
- We are going to take care of you
- This is not your fault
Communicate the decision together.
You should meet with each other prior to meeting with your children to plan what they will say. You should both be present when you talk to children. Physically joining forces in this moment encourages your children to trust that you will continue working together to care for them in the future. Outlining what to say before helps you focus on the children.
Own the decision.
Children inevitably assume they caused the divorce. Their misbehavior. Their poor grades in school. Their fighting.
Right up front, you should frame the decision to divorce as the parents’ decision. “We have decided that we are going to divorce. Or, for younger children—Mommy and Daddy won’t live together anymore. Then also tell them,” This is not your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause this. This is our decision.”
This can be especially hard for a parent who doesn’t’ want the divorce. Even harder if they have religious or moral convictions against divorce. Saying, “This is our decision” when it isn’t—and even violates personal values—is understandably difficult.
Yet, children need to know it isn’t THEIR fault. And, children universally believe that it is.
So, for the parent who struggles with saying the decision to divorce is theirs, finding a way to frame the conversation such that children are protected and more that their relationship with both parents is protected is crucial. There will be a time when the wounds have healed and when maturity allows for a deeper understanding of each parent’s perspective. When telling children initially, phrase the conversation in ways that reassure them and on being their protector.
Also, avoid phrases such as “we just don’t love each other anymore.” Even if true, this confuses children. If you can stop loving each other, you can stop loving them. Instead, simply repeat that this is your decision and that the reasons will stay between the two of you.
Outline the changes.
Divorce impacts every area of life—for adults and children. Parents likely fear coming changes. That fear can tempt you to avoid addressing changes with children. When people don’t have information, they feel confused. And, they start making up their own answers. Often, answers that are far worse than reality.
Instead, offer the answers you can. Children will want to know where they will live. If they will change schools. Whether they will see their friends. In outlining what to say, try to anticipate children’s questions and script the answers you know.
If answers are unknown, don’t make promises you might not be able to keep. Instead—be honest. “We don’t know. But, we are working together to figure it out and make sure we take care of you. As soon as we know—you will know.”
Say, “We love you. We will take care of you.”
Children grieve deeply the loss of the source of their security—their parents’ marriage. Their home. Their way of life. Most of all they grieve the loss of the assurance that love lasts.
They need to hear parents say out loud and repeatedly, “I love you.” Then, you need to back that statement with actions.
You need to physically show up—for parenting time, for games, and for special events. You need to emotionally support children through their grief about the divorce. You need to honor each other so children are free to continue openly love and relate to both parents. All of these actions demonstrate real love.
As children experience these tangible expressions of love, they come to trust that their parents will continue to be a source of security—from separate homes.
Telling the children will never be easy. But, it can be healthy—I f parents work together and address children’s key fears.
If you would like more information about protecting children in divorce, please contact Resolution Mediation by clicking HERE or calling 317-793-0825. We look forward to serving you.